Green-Eyed Jedi, or why I envy Harry Potter fans
|FEATURES - MOVIES|
Richard Cosgrove explores his inner conflict...
There are no two ways about it, I'm a Star Wars child. I saw the first movie way back in 1977 and like so many other children of my generation I was blown away by the two hours of boy's own space adventures that welded my seven year old eyes to the big screen. I subsequently clamored after the first dozen three-a-and-half inch figures (particularly the Stormtrooper and Tusken Raider, which were by far the coolest) and quickly developed a raging thirst for all things that had the words 'Star' and 'Wars' attached to them.
For the best part of the next quarter of a century I held my head high, proud to be known as a full blown Star Wars-o-holic, unafraid to declare my love for all things George Lucas, but then something happened that began to change the way I felt. That something was the prequels.
While nothing could taint my love for the original trilogy, it was in the wake of being distinctly underwhelmed by The Phantom Menace that I began to feel that all was not well in my own personal outpost of the Empire. Whereas my friends and I had nearly exploded with excitement when we first clapped our eyes on the magnificent AT-ATs striding through the icy wastes of Hoth in the first trailer for The Empire Strikes Back, as the release date for Attack Of The Clones grew ever closer I found myself, well, not that bothered.
Revenge Of The Sith came and went, managing to partially offset the disappointment that I'd felt at the first two prequels, but the damage had already been done. It wasn't only the movies themselves that had caused such a disturbance in the force, but also the growing realization that the creator of this universe that had stolen my heart so long ago might not actually be the superhero and all-around good guy that we'd imagined him to be for so long.
Evidence was mounting that after accidentally doing the deal of his life when he accepted the merchandising rights for Star Wars and any sequels in lieu of his director's fee, the bearded one seemed to have become more concerned with the marketing of the myriad of toys, books, lunch boxes, and clothing rather than with the actual films themselves and their mythology. In short, George appeared to have succumbed to the Dark Side.
My fellow Shadowlocked scribe Gabriel Ruzin has written extensively and eloquently on this very subject here, actualising the uneasy feelings that I've been having about my first love for a while now, but it's my recent discovery of another epic cinematic tale of good versus evil that has been playing out on the periphery of my vision for the last decade that has finally brought out that most ugly and base of human emotions in me – jealousy.
You see, for twenty five years, Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi encapsulated and defined my expectations of what the perfect cinematic epic should be. Though the Rebels and the Empire had been fighting for a good while when that first Star Destroyer flew over my head for what seemed like minutes to my seven year old self, what is now referred to as the classic trilogy seemed, to me anyway, to have a beginning, a middle and a definite end.
For six hours and change we followed farm hick Luke Skywalker's journey from boy to man as he is mentored by a mystical old warrior, hooks up with a roguish space smuggler and his walking carpet sidekick to rescue a princess, blows up the Death Star, trains to become a Jedi under the tutelage of another, noticeably shorter and greener, mystical old warrior, discovers that the evil Empire's asthmatic attack dog Darth Vader fathered both him and the princess, speeds through a dense forest for a dark date with the heinous Emperor before finally turning daddy dearest back to the light side and partying with a bunch of teddy bears as the universe prepares to live happily ever after.
As the credits rolled on that first showing of Jedi and my friends and I stumbled out of the long gone Nottingham Odeon into the harsh afternoon sunlight, we couldn't help but wish there was going to be more. In retrospect I now realize that this was my first brush with that most important of life's lessons - be careful what you wish for. Back then, though, I was deeply in love with all things Star Wars and couldn't imagine that I would ever be that impressed by or smitten with another series of films, and for the next 27 years this was the case.
Towards the end of 2010, though, and all thanks to my wonderful partner Deborah, I was finally introduced to the cinematic world of another young boy with an epic quest who went by the name of Harry. Now I'll be honest here, I was one of those people who scoffed at anybody over the age of ten who read a Harry Potter book in public (even worse if you were trying to hide it behind the 'grown up' covers) and even though I'd previously sat through the first two or three movies on DVD under slight protest, I hadn't seen what all the fuss was about.
This all changed last autumn, though, when due to the near-religious fervor that had overtaken my household in the run up to The Deathly Hallows Part One, the seventh film in the Potter series, I bought Deborah the first six movies on Blu-ray so that I could catch up and become familiar with this clearly very important part of the rest of my family's lives, and promised to give them a fair, open-minded viewing.
True to my word we sat and watched the first half a dozen movies over the course of several weeks and while doing so I began to feel the first stirrings of a green-eyed monster among the midi-chlorians of my mind. By the end of the sixth film the emerald beast had grown to Wampa proportions and I felt confused and conflicted. I loved that I was embracing and being entertained by this new discovery, but I hated that it felt like I was cheating on my long term life partner. The worst thing, though, was that I couldn't escape from the realization that I had finally come out of denial and could admit to myself that I no longer loved the Star Wars universe as much as I used to.
There was no escaping from it, this Harry Potter saga was everything that Star Wars had long since ceased to be, to me anyway. I still love the classic trilogy with that passion that you only ever feel once, the first time you fall heavily for something or someone, but the additions to the universe in the intervening years had done so much to saturate and dilute the mythology, and in the process erode my sense of pride at being a Star Wars fan.
So why is it that this wizarding world of Harry Potter has the jealousy monster in me glaring at the disciples of Dumbledore with the intensity of a Death Star laser, even though I find myself standing at the very edge of the Hogwarts school photograph, the Johnny Come Lately who not only wants to belong to this cool clique, but has been accepted unconditionally into the fold? The answer to this question can be broadly broken down into several areas.
To my teenage self, the original Star Wars trilogy was to all intents and purposes a complete, fully-formed saga in and of itself. Yes, there had been the odd comic strip in newspapers (eventually reprinted by Dark Horse comics) and even an ongoing Marvel comic series which I used to collect despite the fact that it wasn't canon, not that I was aware of this at the time, of course, as there wasn't really any canon outside of the movies at this point.
It wasn't that long after Jedi, however, that rumors began to abound that Star Wars was in fact the fourth film in a series of nine that George Lucas had already meticulously planned out, and that there was a very real possibility that we would be seeing more of our favorite space opera on the big screen. Excited? Me? You bet I was (and boy would that come back to haunt me in 1999)!
On the face of it this news should have been fantastic, but in retrospect I can see that this is where it the seeds of my ultimate frustration with the Star Wars universe were planted because I'm something of a completist when it comes to the mythologies of my favorite geek-oriented passions. I like to have all the movies and all the books – you can keep your clothing, your bubble bath, your cookie jars and all but the coolest figures, but the actual story side of things is sacred to me.
Therefore, when the Star Wars universe began to expand in 1991 with the arrival of celebrated sci-fi author Timothy Zahn's imaginative and critically lauded Thrawn Trilogy (named after the principal villain Grand Admiral Thrawn, and comprising the books Heir To The Empire, Dark Force Rising and The Last Command), I began to pick up the hardback first editions of what became a regular trickle of new fiction. Set after the events of Jedi (George wouldn't permit any exploration of anything prior to A New Hope for some reason, though we know why now, of course) the first dozen of so novels, including The Courtship Of Princess Leia by Dave Wolverton, Darksaber by soon-to-become regular Star Wars scribe Kevin J Anderson and The Truce At Bakura by Kathy Tyers, were as refreshing as a protocol droid's lube bath, and my shelf began to fill with an impressive collection of new Star Wars stories.
Then came Dark Forces on the PC which was essentially Doom with stormtroopers, but it allowed us rabid fans to actually (well, virtually, but let's not split Wookiee hairs here) run around inside the Star Wars universe, and the plot was within accepted canon. We even got to steal the plans that led to the ultimate downfall of the Empire's first fully operational battle station, the Death Star!
However, having smelled the money in the water, George Lucas began authorizing more and more product and before I knew it the Star Wars galaxy was awash with literally hundreds of new stories and characters in the form of novels, short story collections and comics. Even if I'd had the credits to buy everything that was flooding the market there were still only so many hours in the day, so many days in the week, and I began to feel out of touch with the very universe that I'd once felt I knew like the back of my hand.
Harry Potter, though, has so far remained a contained and finite universe, and I love that. Everything that I will ever need to know about Harry, Hagrid, Hogwarts, and the rest of J. K. Rowling's magical mythology is neatly contained within eight books (if we include the Tales Of Beedle The Bard novella) and eight movies. There's nothing more I could learn about Severus Snape that would make a jot of difference to the Potter mythology, and if Rowling is to be believed, and there seems no reason not to take her at her word given that, (unlike Mr. Lucas) she appears to have a firm grasp on retaining the dignity and integrity of her creations, there won't be any further adventures in which young Snape gets up to some jolly japes at Junior Hogwarts.
The Star Wars universe, however, has not only multiplied faster than a Star Destroyer full of Tribbles (now that would make an interesting story), but over the years it has come to light that instead of the meticulously planned saga that George had previously alluded to, his so called master plan was nothing more than a dozen sides of scribbled A4 notes, which suggests that he has, in fact, been making a lot of it up as he went along. Cynics might even go so far as to suggest this has been driven by the mighty marketing dollar – after all, as Shadowlocked's US Editor Gabriel Ruzin points out in his article, the name 'Ewok' doesn't even appear in Jedi, and it's widely known that the original plan was for the final battle to take place not on Endor, but on the Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk. It doesn't take a genius to figure out which of the two species would sell more toys.
Even this would be perfectly acceptable, though, if George hadn't felt the need to 'fix' things that he perceives to have been wrong but which in fact long term fans like myself both accept and remember as part of our childhood experience. I don't care how many times George tries to justify it, Greedo did not shoot first, and as for the additional scenes of Boba Fett in Jabba's Palace that were shoehorned into the Special Edition of Jedi, Lucas managed, in the space of a few seconds of screen time that were undoubtedly added solely to capitalise on the character's popularity, to disintegrate the galaxy's most badass bounty hunter's credibility and dignity. Worse still was the decision to not only include his dad Jango in the prequels, but to show us Boba as a child! Talk about stripping a character of any mystery!
For years I idolized George Lucas. Here was the man who created Star Wars, the man who co-created Indiana Jones, the man who produced us, err, Howard The Duck, but hey, we're all allowed a misstep or two. How could the man who had seemingly brought so much joy and happiness into the world by sharing the stories of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewbacca and the rest of that far, far away galaxy's gang be anything but a nice guy.
However, as time has rolled relentlessly on, it has become more and more apparent that when you really take a long hard look at George's actions, he has done nothing for the fans that didn't entail him having either one eye on the cash register or purely selfish motives.
Take the Special Editions. On the surface the concept seems wonderful – restore and clean up the original movies so that the original Star Wars generation can enjoy them in as pristine a condition as possible, and to introduce them to a whole new generation of fans by re-releasing them at the cinema. Again, all good, except that these movies are not the movies I remember.
This would be OK providing that I could still watch the versions that defined my childhood, but because George is happier with his new bastardized versions, the rest of us can just whistle like an annoyed R2 unit. Even the upcoming Blu-ray releases, which aren't exactly struggling for disc storage space, will not include the original versions, which is either yet another snub to fans like myself, or a dastardly and cynical ploy to make us buy yet another release in a couple of years time. Actually, it's probably both of these things.
And so, because of examples like this, and reports of cease and desist letters being sent to small New Jersey bars who want to celebrate the wonderful universe of Star Wars by showing the movies to the patrons (how cool would that have been – beer and Star Wars in a real life cantina!) my love for George Lucas has slowly but surely turned into loathing. I just hadn't realized quite how deeply I'd drifted into the Dark Side until I discovered the world of Harry Potter and its rather more benevolent and friendly creator Joanne Rowling.
Now I'm not suggesting that Ms. Rowling is whiter than white, as she's not averse to the odd lawsuit herself to protect her intellectual property, as was witnessed when she blocked the publication of a Harry Potter encyclopedia in 2009 (check!!), but on the whole she seems very happy for her army of Muggles to have fun with all things Potter. My perception these days of George's world, however, is that if you even dare to think anything Star Wars without the written permission of Lucasfilm's lawyers then you'll find yourself in a detention block faster than the Millennium Falcon's Kessel Run!
I realize that I'm perhaps being slightly unfair on old George here, as I'd like to think that he does a lot of worthwhile unsung work for any number of charities, but sadly the key word here is perception. From a fan's perspective it doesn't matter how much good Mr. Lucas does with his millions because while he continues to treat the fans, the very people who put his many millions in his pockets, with the apparent contempt that he does, I'm not going to shake my opinion that, frankly, he's a money grabbing douche.
Rowling, on the other hand, is currently at the other end of the spectrum, having completely won me over with the impending release of the Pottermore website. Not only will this groundbreaking (if the advance notices are to be believed) website be free, ensuring that every single one of her fans, no matter what their personal circumstances, can participate and feel like a valued member of the Potter community, but will be a valuable tool in teaching and encouraging people of all ages to actually read (something that as a writer I wholeheartedly endorse).
This is perhaps the area that I am most jealous about, not least because George Lucas has seen fit to pretty much retcon my beloved original versions of the classic trilogy out of existence. This planet-sized grievance aside, however, there is the small matter of the fact that my previously pedestal-perched impression of the classic trilogy as being the perfect example of the definitive cinematic saga has been vaporised by the sheer quality of the Potter films.
Granted, A New Hope featured two of the finest old school British actors in the shape of Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing, and there's nothing about either of their performances that I can legitimately criticize, but when it comes to the three leads, namely Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford, then even the most die-hard of Star Wars fans has to admit that the acting is on a par with a flat-packed IKEA wardrobe (though I concede that the script didn't help, something that Ford himself has famously commented on).
The Potter saga, on the other hand, featured not two, not three, but quite literally dozens of pedigree British actors. In fact, by the end of the eighth film it was more a case of who hadn't been involved than who had. Kenneth Branagh, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Ralph Fiennes, Brendan Gleeson, Gary Oldman, the list goes on and on, and that's before we even get to the three junior leads.
Having been subjected to the arboreal acting qualities of Jake Lloyd's Mannequin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace (again, talk about declawing an iconic villain!), I was expecting a similarly wooden performance from the boy wizard, but imagine my surprise when it wasn't only Daniel Radcliffe that turned in a stunning performance, but his co-stars Emma Watson and Rupert Grint as well, matching him acting chop for acting chop as his best friends Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley respectively.
The pedigree of the acting gives rise to another important distinction between the two film sagas, namely that throughout the entire eight movie Potter experience, I can't think of a single character that I didn't care at least a little bit about. This was true not only of the three leads, but also extended to the more prominent supporting players, and particularly the likes of Draco Malfoy, Neville Longbottom, Luna Lovegood, the Weasley clan and even Dobby, who proved that a fully formed CGI character could have heart and soul, and not just bound around like an ADHD orangutan spouting nonsensical garbage.
I was genuinely moved by moments such as Hermione erasing her family's memory of her at the start of The Deathly Hallows Part One, and at the death of a certain elf in the same film, but I can honestly say that at no point during the prequel trilogy did I feel anything beyond annoyance at Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala. As far as I was concerned not only did he come across as an irritating kid and then a whiny, bratty teenager, but it has subsequently, and irreversibly, altered my perception of Darth Vader.
The once mighty Dark Lord of the Sith, whose back story we knew precious little about in the classic trilogy has now, in my mind anyway, been reduced to little more than an intergalactic Victor Meldrew in a bad S&M fancy dress costume. Potter fans, much to my envy, will never have the trauma of having Voldermort retconned into some self-harming, kitten-torturing emo kid from an abusive family, thus explaining why the dark magic messiah is such a very naughty boy.
Now that the Harry Potter films have reached their conclusion, ending on a very satisfying and ultimately uplifting note, I feel fortunate to have put aside my reluctance to entertain the notion that a bunch of children's books could be transformed into what is now one of my favorite series of movies. I had thought that, despite their many flaws, the six-movie Star Wars cycle would never be bested in my all time hall of fame (Lord Of The Rings came very close, mind), but thanks in large to the actions of George Lucas and his systematic devaluing of my once beloved universes, I'm once more proud to be called a fan of another saga.
Though I now hold my head high as a bona fide fan of J. K. Rowling's world of wizardry, I can't help but feel just a little jealous that we Star Wars fans have been denied the wonderfully complete legacy that Potter fans will enjoy for generations to come.
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